Griffith University: Not in isolation: Silo art needs long-term tourism activation

Silo art alone will not automatically save local economies and long-term plans for activating and developing both the site and town should be in place a new Griffith Business School report recommends.

Griffith Business School’s Dr Amelia Green and Professor Scott Weaven have released the first Australian Silo Art and Wellbeing report with a suite of recommendations based on over 1100 responses to the first national silo art survey focusing on the experiences and perceptions of visitors, residents and local business owners.

Dr Green says while the report confirms that silo art consistently attracts visitors, the extent to which it directly stimulates local economies and individual businesses varies widely across each of Australia’s silo art sites.

“What happens after visitors view silo art is shaped by what they interact with when they arrive.”

Of the 183 local business owners surveyed, 64% reported that silo art attracted customers to their businesses. Only 47% responded that it had a noticeable positive impact overall on the businesses in their town.

Q. Local business owner/manager. Which of the following best describes what you think about silo art as a way to stimulate local businesses in your town? Noticeable/observable positive impact 47%, some indications of positive impact: 34%, no impact/difference to local business: 11%, I am not sure or I am undecided: 6%, Negative impact on local business: 1%, Other: 1%.“Whether an individual business benefits from silo art visitors depends on many factors such as where the business is located within the town, if other businesses are closer to the silo art site and if the business offers facilities like toilets,” Dr Green said.

“While some business owners and managers attributed the survival of their business entirely to silo art visitors, others reported that silo art has made no difference to their trade.”

The report recommends that silo art towns provide up-to-date online information about the art, local businesses and opening hours to assist visitor’s trip planning.

Similar information should also be displayed at the site with a map identifying walking or driving distances to local business and other nearby experiences.

“The perception amongst visitors that these towns want to attract tourists sets up their expectations when they arrive and information before and during visits is crucial,” Dr Green said.

“The research shows a current disconnect between visitors eager to give back to local communities but frustrated when nothing is open, and business owners keen for more customers.”

Dr Green said silo art presents a ‘golden opportunity’ economically, but the broader challenges lie in deepening the visitor experience, inspiring return visits, and re-framing silo art as a launching pad for broader tourism strategies and revitalisation.

“Visitor awareness and attraction are two initial hurdles. The question then becomes, how do you make visitors fall in love with your town?”

The report also highlights that ongoing activation of existing sites and towns may require funding and collaboration with local councils, community groups, government, arts organisations and tourism bodies to address issues and opportunities.

Silo art ‘stimulates happiness’ in local communities
Decorative
Coonalpyn Silos in South Australia. Painted in 2017 by artist Guido van Helten. Photo by Karen Simpson.
When it comes to social impacts, the report found silo art benefits local communities by stimulating happiness through enjoyable interactions with high quality art (according to 70% of all resident participants), beautification of the everyday environment (72%) and reinforced or increased town pride (65%). Of the residents surveyed, 88% consider silo art a worthwhile investment for regional Australian towns and communities.

However, the report also found highly isolated cases of some residents experiencing adverse impacts associated with silo artworks that lack a connection to the local area.

“Visitors have come to expect that silo artworks represent the local community, so they naturally ask questions about the artwork when they arrive.”

“Answering these questions can be difficult if the artwork depicts symbols or stories that are not present in the town,” Dr Green said.

Visitors ‘feel positive’ for giving back to communities
Q: On average, approximately how much total money did you spend in each of the towns you have visited with silo art? $0: 6%, $1-10: 8%, $11-50: 44%, $51-100: 25%, $101-200: 11%, $201-500: 5%, $500+: 1%Benefits for visitors include expanding arts engagement, inspiring arts participation, positive re-discovery of Australian art, culture, history and towns, and positive emotions stimulated by opportunities to give back to struggling rural and regional communities in small yet symbolic ways.

“44% of the 714 visitors surveyed reported that they spend approximately between $11 and $50 in each town they visit for silo art. A further 25% reported that they spend between $50 and $100,” Dr Green said.

“But participants repeatedly emphasised that the specific amount they spend varies depending for instance on what businesses are open and whether the silo art site is connected to a town or not.”

“Our findings reinforce the potential for silo art to benefit visitors and local communities alike. Now is the time to plan strategically and make informed actions to foster the potential and longevity of this art tourism movement.”

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